Archaeologists Discover Nazi Extermination Camp Gas Chambers in Poland

A rusty road sign outside the perimeter of a Nazi death camp in Sobibor, Poland, on Sept. 18, 2014. (Reuters/Kacper Pempel)

From “Archaeologists unearth hidden death chambers used to kill a quarter-million Jews at notorious camp”

By Terrence McCoy in The Washington Post

Few sites across war-torn Poland harbor more secrets of atrocity and horror than the Nazi concentration camp of Sobibor. Different from Auschwitz, which almost immediately yielded the full scope of the crimes committed there, the history of Sobibor in eastern Poland was initially hidden and opaque.

Unlike Auschwitz, the fate of Sobibor wasn’t liberation. It was obliteration. The Nazis who had run the camp tried to extinguish every remnant of it in 1943, painting over its grounds with a farm, trees and asphalt. Besides a railroad track and the commander’s house, Haaretz noted, nothing remained of the camp. Save for the testimonies of the few survivors, who could only provide scant recollections of small areas of the camp, Sobibor had been lost to history.

But now, more than 70 years later, relics of genocide have surfaced, bringing more clarity to the murder of an estimated 250,000 Jews there than ever before. Buried beneath an asphalt road were a series of well-preserved gas chamber walls that archaeologists say will help elucidate the secrets of Sobibor. Beneath the road were brick rows, stacked four deep — the exoskeleton of four gas chambers.

“The discovery of the gas chambers at Sobibor is a very important finding in Holocaust research,” historian David Silberklang, editor of Yad Vashem Studies, said in a statement. “It is important to understand that there were no survivors from among the Jews who worked in the area of the gas chambers. Therefore, these findings are all that is left of those murdered there, and they open a window onto the day-to-day suffering of these people.”

Read more at The Washington Post

12,000 Year Old Human Remains in Mexico Are Oldest Ever Found In Americas

Divers Alberto Nava and Susan Bird transport the Hoyo Negro skull to an underwater turntable so that it can be photographed in order to create a 3-D model. Researchers detailed their analysis of the oldest, most complete, genetically intact human skeleton discovered in the New World.

Alejandro Alvarez’s eyes widened against the dark underwater void that would become known as the Black Hole on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

His flashlight shined on ancient bones from extinct species, and eventually he would discover the hemisphere’s oldest, most complete skeleton, a find that may transform the way we think about the development of American man.

This view of Hoyo Negro, shot from the floor near the south edge, shows the immensity of the chamber and the complexity of the boulder-strewn bottom. One access tunnel can be seen near the ceiling at top left.

“What in the world is this?” Alvarez recalls thinking. He and two diving buddies with him knew that they had stumbled across something special.

“We immediately realized the importance,” Alvarez, now 52 and still diving, said in an interview. “It was very exciting.”

The discovery of the 12,000-year-old skeleton of a teenage girl occurred seven years ago but wasn’t announced until this month, after additional, sometimes-risky exploration and detailed scientific investigation.

Published first in the American magazine Science, then elaborated upon by Mexican scientific officials, the find has provided immeasurable evidence on the origins of the first Native Americans.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times

Clyde Snow, a Sleuth Who Read Bones From King Tut’s to Kennedy’s, Is Dead at 86

By ROBERT D. McFADDENMAY 16, 2014

Clyde Snow in 1986. Credit David Longstreet/Associated Press

With ghoulish geniality, Clyde Snow liked to say that bones made good witnesses, never lying, never forgetting, and that a skeleton, no matter how old, could sketch the tale of a human life, revealing how it had been lived, how long it had lasted, what traumas it had endured and especially how it had ended.

He was a legendary detective of forensic anthropology, the esoteric science of extracting the secrets of the dead from skeletal remains. His subjects included President John F. Kennedy, the Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele, the “disappeared” who were exhumed from mass graves in Argentina, victims of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, and even Tutankhamen, the pharaoh who lived 3,300 years ago.

Dr. Snow in 2000 in El Salvador, where his team found the skeletons of 136 infants and children killed by army squads. Credit Victor Ruiz/Associated Press

More, Dr. Snow, who testified against Saddam Hussein and other tyrants, was the father of a modern movement that has used forensic anthropology in human rights drives against genocide, war crimes and massacres in Kosovo, Bosnia, Rwanda, Chile and elsewhere.

He died at 86 on Friday at a hospital in Norman, Okla., where he lived. His wife, Jerry Whistler Snow, said the cause was cancer and emphysema.

Read more at The New York Times

Found after 500 years, the wreck of Christopher Columbus’s flagship the Santa Maria

Archaeology correspondent David Keys reveals a remarkable discovery off the coast of Haiti

More than five centuries after Christopher Columbus’s flagship, the Santa Maria, was wrecked in the Caribbean, archaeological investigators think they may have discovered the vessel’s long-lost remains – lying at the bottom of the sea off the north coast of Haiti. It’s likely to be one of the world’s most important underwater archaeological discoveries.

“All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus’ famous flagship, the Santa Maria,” said the leader of a recent reconnaissance expedition to the site, one of America’s top underwater archaeological investigators, Barry Clifford.

“The Haitian government has been extremely helpful – and we now need to continue working with them to carry out a detailed archaeological excavation of the wreck,” he said.

So far, Mr. Clifford’s team has carried out purely non-invasive survey work at the site – measuring and photographing it.

Tentatively identifying the wreck as the Santa Maria has been made possible by quite separate discoveries made by other archaeologists in 2003 suggesting the probable location of Columbus’ fort relatively nearby. Armed with this new information about the location of the fort, Clifford was able to use data in Christopher Columbus’ diary to work out where the wreck should be.

Read more at The Independent

Everything you know about the Black Death is wrong, say the bones.

Don Walker, a human osteologist with the Museum of London, poses with the skull of one of the skeletons found by construction workers under central London’s Charterhouse Square on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Twenty-five skeletons were uncovered last year during work on Crossrail, a new rail line that’s boring 13 miles (21 kilometers) of tunnels under the heart of the city. Archaeologists immediately suspected the bones came from a cemetery for victims of the bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in the 14th century. The Black Death, as the plague was called, is thought to have killed at least 75 million people, including more than half of Britain’s population. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

In the autumn of 1348, a central Asian sickness arrived in London and quickly dispatched 60 percent of the city’s population. Within a decade, in what’s believed to be the worst human calamity of all time, something like 25 million Europeans were dead. And when they died, the secrets of their demise disappeared with them.

Until now.

On Sunday, London scientists who’d studied 25 skeletons discovered in a new rail line said everything we’d thought about the bubonic plague — what caused it, what kind of disease it was, its strength — was wrong. Most of the ensuing coverage focused on the finding that the disease wasn’t likely spread by rats’ fleas, as has been taught in every high school in the West, but had actually been airborne.

Read more at the Washington Post

Support quality journalism. Subscribe to the Washington Post.

Scientists find 800,000-year-old footprints in UK

Evidence is earliest proof of human life in Northern Europe, oldest prints found outside Africa

Some of the human footprints, thought to be more than 800,000 years old, found in silt on the beach at Happisburgh on the coast of England. A camera lens cap indicates scale.British Museum/AP

They were a British family on a day out — almost a million years ago.

Archaeologists announced Friday that they have discovered human footprints in England that are between 800,000 and 1 million years old — the most ancient found outside Africa, and the earliest evidence of human life in Northern Europe.

British Museum archaeologist Nick Ashton said the discovery — recounted in detail in the journal PLOS ONE — was “a tangible link to our earliest human relatives.”

Preserved in layers of silt and sand for hundreds of millennia before being exposed by the tide last year, the prints give a vivid glimpse of some of our most ancient ancestors. They were left by a group, including at least two children and one adult male.

They could have been be a family foraging on the banks of a river scientists think may be the ancient Thames, beside grasslands where bison, mammoth, hippos and rhinoceros roamed.

The researchers said the humans who left the footprints may have been related to Homo antecessor, or “pioneer man,” whose fossilized remains have been found in Spain. That species died out about 800,000 years ago.

Read more at Al Jazeera America

Wine Cellar, Well Aged, Is Revealed in Israel

A storage room unearthed from the ruins of a 1700 B.C. Canaanite palace in northern Israel held the remains of 40 ceramic jars.

Digging this summer at the ruins of a 1700 B.C. Canaanite palace in northern Israel, archaeologists struck wine.

Near the banquet hall where rulers of a Middle Bronze Age city-state and their guests feasted, a team of American and Israeli researchers broke through to a storage room holding the remains of 40 large ceramic jars. The vessels were broken, their liquid contents long since vanished — but not without a trace.

A chemical analysis of residues left in the three-foot-tall jars detected organic traces of acids that are common components of all wine, as well as ingredients popular in ancient winemaking. These included honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins used as a preservative. The recipe was similar to medicinal wines used for 2,000 years in ancient Egypt and probably tasted something like retsina or other resinous Greek wines today.

So the archaeologists who have been exploring the Canaanite site, known as Tel Kabri, announced on Friday that they had found one of civilization’s oldest and largest wine cellars. The storage room held the equivalent of about 3,000 bottles of red and white wines, they said — and they suspected that this was not the palace’s only wine cellar.

“This is a hugely significant discovery,” said Eric H. Cline, a co-director of the Tel Kabri excavations, in a statement issued by George Washington University, where he is chairman of the department of classical and Near Eastern languages and civilizations. “It’s a wine cellar that, to our knowledge, is largely unmatched in its age and size.”

Dr. Cline and the other co-director, Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa in Israel, described their findings Friday in Baltimore at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Another member of the team, Andrew Koh of Brandeis University, reported the results of the organic residue analysis, emphasizing the quantity of the samples and thoroughness of the testing. The researchers had to work fast to examine the residues before they became contaminated on exposure outside the storage room.

The archaeologists said that much of the palace, including the banquet hall and the wine storage room, was destroyed 3,600 years ago in some violent event, perhaps an earthquake. The wine cellar was covered with thick debris of mud bricks and plaster. That and the fact that no subsequent buildings were erected on top of the site have made Tel Kabri an inviting place for archaeological studies.

24,000-Year-Old Body Shows Kinship to Europeans and American Indians

Scientists studied the genome of a boy buried near Lake Baikal in Siberia and were amazed to find partly European ancestry.

The genome of a young boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia some 24,000 years ago has turned out to hold two surprises for anthropologists.

The first is that the boy’s DNA matches that of Western Europeans, showing that during the last Ice Age people from Europe had reached farther east across Eurasia than previously supposed. Though none of the Mal’ta boy’s skin or hair survives, his genes suggest he would have had brown hair, brown eyes and freckled skin.

The second surprise is that his DNA also matches a large proportion — about 25 percent — of the DNA of living Native Americans. The first people to arrive in the Americas have long been assumed to have descended from Siberian populations related to East Asians. It now seems that they may be a mixture between the Western Europeans who had reached Siberia and an East Asian population.

Read more at The New York Times